The Old Church of Dunlewey – The Donegal Taj Mahal

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    John Joe McGinley tells the story behind Donegal’s Dunlewey Church which was built as a monument by a heartbroken wife, on the death of her husband

    The Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the world and over eight million people a year visit this symbol of love, devotion and loss.


    The Taj Mahal, which means the “Crown of the Palace” is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river, in the Indian city of Agra.
    Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (reigned from 1628 to 1658), it was a memorial to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
    It was completed in 1653.


    Two hundred years later, another monument to love and loss would be completed by a grieving spouse, this time in Ireland and in County Donegal, that of the old church of Dunlewey.


    It lies silently at the foot of Mount Errigal, the tallest of the Derryveagh mountain range, and the largest in Donegal.


    A beautiful building, it is a lasting memorial to a great love affair. That of James Russell, once the landlord of the Dunlewey estate in Donegal, and his wife Jane.
    James Russell married Jane Smith in 1825, and they set up married life in London. James would go on to make a fortune as a hop merchant.
    They would be blessed with five daughters Fannie, Henrietta, Emma, Louisa Sarah, and Josephine.


    Using the wealth they had acquired in London, the couple decided to leave England and purchase the Dunlewey estate, an area of sheep, lakes and outstanding natural beauty with the wild Atlantic to the west, and the Derryveagh mountains to the east.
    The estate is recorded as consisting of a house, outbuildings, gate lodges and 3,825 acres of land, a large holding by the standards of the day.
    Little is written of their time in Dunlewey, but James died on the 2nd of September, 1848. Heartbroken, his widow decided to build the church as a lasting monument for her husband.

    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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